Top 10 Places to Meet Locals

Food, Nightlife, Things to Do — By Sarah Sekula on October 20, 2011 at 11:37 pm

Belly up to Eden Bar to meet Orlando locals. Photo courtesy of Eden Bar.

Meet active sporty types or bar-hoppers at dozens of Orlando hang-outs.

1. Taverna Opa
This eatery on International Drive (part of the tourist district) is the place for breaking plates, dodging confetti-style napkins and sampling tasty dishes like the smash-it-yourself garbanzo beans appetizer. Just as impressive: the garlic-marinated chicken kabobs and Santorini shrimp. Better yet, the energy of this eatery will have you dancing in your seat or — for the more adventurous — on the table. Afterward, hit B.B. King’s Blues Club for funky jazz, just a few steps away.

2. Royal Pacific Resort’s Wantilan Luau
A Polynesian-style feast is in full swing as the Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando plays host to hula dancers, fire eaters and hungry guests each Tuesday and Saturday night at the Wantilan Luau. The overflowing buffet begins with an array of starters including tropical fruits garnished with papaya-seed mint dressing and an Ahi tuna poke salad. Big appetites can feast on guava barbecue beef short ribs and top it off with the dessert extravaganza.

3. Eden Bar at Enzian Theater
This cozy outdoor bar offers up cleverly named cocktails and superb bites of food. Afterwards, check out an indie movie inside in the theater.

4. The Orlando Watersports Complex 
Known by locals as O-Dub, this water park has two cableways that allow you to wakeboard, wakeskate, kneeboard and waterski without a boat. Whether you are a newbie or a pro, you’ll have a blast. The advanced slider park, complete with a Nessy-shaped funbox, encourages reckless abandon. Even wakeboarding pros like Adam Errington and Dallas Friday (yes, that’s her real name) train here. So you might just meet them. The coolest thing about this park is the amount of time you can stay out on the water. The two cableways allow for unlimited riding time; key when trying to perfecting your skills.

5. Aiguille Rock Climbing Center
Head here, and you will have you singing the Spider-Man theme song and scaling the walls like a superhero. The giant warehouse, packed with pastel-colored climbing surfaces shaped like arcs, cliffs and domes, looks like a giant jungle gym. But don’t be fooled; it offers up huge thrills for both tykes and the adult set. The bouldering cave encourages upside-down feats, and the climbing routes range from easy to ludicrous.

6. Dandelion Communitea Café
This eatery stands out in more ways than one. Outside: It’s neon green with an herb garden, patio and nearby yoga studio. Inside: It’s hand-painted chairs, tented ceiling and eclectic people galore. Best of all: This popular spot is part of Co-Op America so everything’s organic and much of it is local. The café is famous for delicious eats, like the Fluffer Nutter Sandwich, Henry’s Hearty Chili and Morockin’ Mint tea, and super drum beats.

7. CityArts Factory
Downtown Orlando has gone mod with the opening of CityArts Factory. Each sidewalk-facing gallery boasts its own unique flair. And third Thursday events bring crowds each month.

8. Winter Park Farmers Market
Any given Saturday you’ll find fresh-cut flowers, farm-fresh veggies and fresh ground coffee at the Winter Park Farmers Market. The market — housed around a weathered train depot — is completely outdoors, just a stone’s throw from Park Avenue shopping, and completely FREE to explore. With 16,000 square feet of farmers’ fare, you’ll work up an appetite faster than you can sip a gourmet soup, scarf down a savory crepe or gulp fresh-squeezed lemonade.

9. Natura Coffee and Tea
Beans and bohemians: a perfect combo. And it just so happens Natura Coffee and Tea  has both. Some of the finest grinds around are available daily. And a motley crowd fills the spot for open mic nights and jazz jams. The menu is reconfigured occasionally, however, the hookah-puffing flavors remain constant.

10. Underground Bluz
This nook of a spot pays tribute to two things — beer and music. Underground Bluz offers Belgian ales, English stouts and little known American microbrews, including hometown favorite Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale. Not to mention, there are some serious crooners rocking this joint, including up-and-coming blues stars. The weird thing: This place — moppy tunes and all — actually leaves you feeling pretty content.